2017 The Art of the Portrait Conference – Day 1

by Matthew Innis |

Edward Jonas, Chairman of the Portrait Society of America, welcomes the audience to the 19th Annual The Art of the Portrait Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

When Edward Jonas, Chairman of the Portrait Society of America, addressed the audience on the first day of the 2017 The Art of Portrait Conference as, “sisters and brothers in art,” it was a very uplifting moment.  For the many new attendees, especially those firt-time visitors who had traveled from nearly every continent on the globe to be there for the weekend, this reminder of solidarity created a swell of palpable pride as it was acknowledged that whatever borders, languages, or politics may separate us superficially, in our love of art, we are of one people.  But though this was an important message and one that should be celebrated, when the rest of us who have been to many conferences heard “sisters and brothers in art,” I believe we heard something that was a bit different.  Jonas, after all, had not said a “sisterhood and brotherhood of artists,” but “sisters and brothers in art:”  to us, he was talking to siblings, to members of a family whose ties – in this case – might not be blood, but are perhaps of something stronger;  we choose to be together because we genuinely like each other.   What we heard Jonas saying was, “It’s so nice to see the family together again,” and in truth, though the demonstrations and presentations are informative and challenging, the products in the vendor’s room are of high quality and deeply discounted, and we all love seeing the finalist’s artworks in person, it is the bonds we have formed with each other that really bring us back year after year.

Let the family reunion begin.

New this year were map boards where attendees were invited to mark their hometowns with small pins. As you can see by just the markers from the first day, this truly was an international event.

Some of the alumni (those who have attended 3 or more of the annual conferences) posed for the official group photo.

Jeffrey Hein giving the first of the main-stage presentations in 2017.

Climbing the stage at 9:15 on Friday morning to give the first demonstration and lecture of the conference was Jeffrey Hein, a young artist from Utah who seemed to have arrived fully-formed when he burst onto the professional art scene some 15 years ago.  Though critically acclaimed from the beginning for his formal yet inventive portraits, Hein changed gears several years ago to focus on social commentaries and large-scale multi-figural allegorical works, as well as to open and nurture his own school of representational art in  Salt Lake City.  Since attending his conference just a few years ago, Hein has become a favorite presenter, as much because of his knowledge and ability as a teacher, as because of his great sense of humor (most of which is self-deprecating).

For 2017, Hein decided to speak on painting lifelike skin tones in a two-hour presentation called, “Mastering Color in Flesh.”  During the presentation Hein described his procedure while simultaneously painting a sitter from life, and while the model was on her breaks, Hein offered a slide presentation which illustrated the points he was applying to the work at hand.

At 26 colors, Hein’s palette may be larger than most figure painters, but their is a purpose to his inclusion of so many paints. For practically each hue, Hein includes a light and dark value, and of these, one is typically opaque while the other is transparent. (This slide is from the insert to Hein’s latest DVD “Cold“).

Hein discussed the use of transparent oil colors to convey those subtle shifts that occur beneath the skin. The blue in an under-layer might represent veins; red, blood that is near the skin surface; and gray, bone that isn’t being hidden by much muscle or fat.

Hein has taken to painting on ABS plastic panels, sanded with 150 grit paper to provide some tooth. He purchases 4×8 feet sheets which he cuts himself. (As Hein says, “Aluminum panels are too expensive!”). For this demo, Hein is working at a Soltek Easel.

Hein compares the size of his model’s head to the one sketched on his panel; it’s never good to paint a head larger than life-size.

Hein’s initial block-in.

Hein begins laying in flesh at a higher chroma because he knows subsequent layers will gray-down the flesh.  It’s harder to add the chroma later.

“Copying is not great art,” Hein reminded the audience. The model should be an influence and inspiration, but artists should not aim to copy them exactly.

Pasty flesh is dictated by the shadows, not the amount of white in the lights. In a previous slide, Hein showed how two photos of the same person in which the lights were the same, could look quite different based on the color of the shadows; too cool a shadow made the person look pasty, while a warm shadow gave the face life. In this slide, Hein showed that shadows are subtle and don’t change drastically, even when the light sources do.

In this slide, Hein explained that an object with a warm local color looks wrong when the shadow is cold. The shadow should still have the complement to the local color in it, but not so much of that complement that the local color temperature is overpowered. “A purple shadow belongs on a purple object, not a lemon!”

“Sometimes,” said Hein, “you must break away from what you see, and paint what should be there.”

At one point, Hein recommended to those members of the audience unfamiliar with artist William Whitaker to look him up. Whitaker was for many years THE representational painter in Utah and is in many ways the godfather of the many talented artists who live and work there now.

Hein is not brand loyal when it comes to paints. He chooses his paints according to how they feel.

Putting some finishing touches on the portrait study at the end of the two hour session (minus the model breaks).

After the final pose.

Hein’s palette in action. Among his brushes is a fan that Hein used to lay in paint, not as a blender. Part of the reason he likes working on a smooth surface (e.g. ABS plastic) is because he wants to dictate the texture with his brushes.

The finished oil sketch.

Daniel Greene speaking to the audience while his wife, fellow artist Wende Caporale, listens on.

After Hein stepped down from the stage, the legendary Daniel Greene took to the stage for a session the artist called, “Ask Me Anything.”  Greene, born in 1934, has taught for most of his professional life and has only recently retired from educating other artists, preferring to spend this current stage of his life concentrating on his own paintings.  He estimates that in his role as educator, he has taught over 10,000 students, not including those he reached with his books and videos.  After speaking for a while, the floor was opened to the audience who plied Greene with technical questions from concerns over lead white to advice on how to tighten sagging canvases.  Fellow-artist Wende Caporale, Greene’s wife, acted as moderator.

After addressing the audience, Greene took the time to speak with individuals from the crowd.

When Daniel Greene’s lecture finished, there was a brief break for lunch, but on a day as busy as this was, it wouldn’t be surprising if many attendees lost track and missed their midday meals.  Immediately following Greene’s lecture, some artists set up in the hallway to autograph books, while others donated their professional knowledge to offer critiques of attendees’ portfolios.  And in the grand ballroom, the alumni members met for the annual photo.  Before we knew it (before this photographer knew it), it was 2pm and time for the Friday breakout sessions.

In the breakout sessions, six events occur simultaneously throughout the guest hotel, each event focussing on a separate topic.  Attendees must chose ahead of time which session they would like to be a part of, as some of these symposiums – such as the drawing workshops – have limited spaces.  The six two-hour forums on this day were:  1).  Painting Children with Michael Shane Neal;  2).  The Experienced Eye with Daniel Greene;  3).  Choosing the Path to Selling Your Art with Scott Jones, Bart Lindstrom, Beverly McNeil, and Mary Whyte;  4).  Doing Your Visual Homework with Anna Rose Bain, Jeff Hein, Edward Jonas, and Dawn Whitelaw;  5).  Improving Your Work Through a Critical Eye with Sam Adoquei, Scott Burdick, and Sadie Valeri;  and 6).  Drawing Workshop with Tony Pro and Kate Stone.

The sartorially savvy Michael Shane Neal began his demonstration with a brief discussion of some ways in which artists of the past have handled painting children’s portraits. In the background can be seen a slide of Pâquerettes (Daisies), 1894, a probable portrait commission by William Bouguereau.

For his demonstration, Neal painted a portrait of his daughter.

During his painting session, Neal, a consummate story teller, related tales of painting children from his own career.

Neal suggested ways to keep children alert and attentive while posing, but his daughter was so well-behaved, none of Shane’s advice proved necessary.

Neal spoke to individual members of the audience after his demonstration.

Neal’s finished portrait sketch of his daughter.

In “The Experienced Eye,” Daniel Greene made use of his 64 years of painting knowledge to critique pre-submitted works of art. Here Greene can be seen answering a question from the audience.

One of the works Greene critiqued during his forum.

In “Choosing the Path to Selling Your Art,” artists Bart Lindstrom and Mary Whyte, along with Scott Jones – manager of The Legacy Gallery – and Beverly McNeil – executive partner at Portraits, Inc. – suggested various ways artists can make their way in the art field.

Here Jones reminds the artists in the crowd to “Think of galleries as pieces of real estate” which must be managed. He suggested that artists should make sure their galleries never sell out of their work, otherwise someone else may step in to claim your space, and you’ll be left ‘homeless.’

In”Doing your Visual Homework,” Anna Rose Bain, Edward Jonas, Dawn Whitelaw, and Jeff Hein discussed some of the preparatory work that goes into their finished artworks.

Edward Jonas discusses his painting of the Apalachee council house, one of 5 historically accurate pictures he created for the Mission San Luis de Apalachee living history museum in Tallahassee, Florida.

As the photographer for the The Art of the Portrait, I enjoy the great freedom of being able to visit every presentation put on during the weekend, but I also suffer under the responsibility that I MUST visit every presentation put on during the weekend.  What this means is I get to see everything that is going on, but I don’t have the time to sit down and listen to many lectures in their entirety, and this can be quite frustrating.

During this particular breakout period, though I enjoyed watching and learning from the panels at all of the individual sessions, the presentation I most wished I could have sat in for the entire time was “Doing Your Visual Homework.”  In large part this was because I sometimes feel that in my own art that I spend too much time prepping for some aspects and not enough for others, and I was interested to learn how theses professionals approached their own pieces.  I was also specifically interested in the maquette building that Jeffrey Hein did for his recent religious painting of “The Golden Gates of Jerusalem.”  Several years ago Hein had told me about some of the preliminary work he had done for the painting, and I was as excited to see his models and sketches as I was to see the finished piece.

For his set for “The Golden Gates of Jerusalem,” Hein studied the remains of the gates as they look today, and built a model to the scale of Hasbro’s Star Wars figures (3 ¾” tall).

From his maquette, Hein spent days creating perspective drawings of the gates.

Hein’s color sketches for “The Golden Gates of Jerusalem” and for another religious painting currently on his easel.

Hein sketches his figures nude or nearly nude, and paints their costumes from life positioned on mannequins. The understanding of the underlying anatomy allows Hein to adjust the costumes on the lay figures and in his painting to achieve a greater sense of reality.

Hein spent extra time sketching the expressions of the most demonstrative figure’s faces.

Hein brought pigeons into his studio so he could draw them from life.

Rather than bringing a donkey into his studio, Hein sculpted a maquette on location and worked from that.

The many sketches and studies were integral to making the large-scale, multi-figure work.

Costumed mannequins in Hein’s studio

The important comparison of the color study to the finished work, and understanding when spots of color in a study don’t work when increased on a larger scale.

Sam Adoquei, Scott Burdick, and Sadie Valeri offer critiques of submitted artworks in “Improving Your Work Through a Critical Eye.” Everyone learned from the commentaries on each work, not just the persons who volunteered their paintings for analysis.

On edges, Adoquei suggested that most in a painting should be soft or lost, and only about 5% should be hard.

Scott Burdick explained that one way to soften edges was to repaint them with stepped-down values.

Valeri keeps all of the edges in her painting soft until the end, then adds hard edges only where needed.

Paintings and drawings awaiting their critiques.

In the “Drawing Workshop,” Tony Pro and Kate Stone teamed up to guide a classroom of students in drawing from the live model.

While Pro began the class by speaking to the class, Stone began on her drawing demonstration.

A close-up of Stone’s drawing.

Students at work.

Students at work.

Pro explaining the training he received under Fred Fixler at the California Institute of Art. Fixler trained under Frank Reilly, and Reilly under George Bridgman. Pro offered ideas on the construct of the figure as put forth by all three men.

Stone, who received training at the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto, discussed her approach to drawing with several members of the class.

Artist and author Michael Mentler at work.

Stone offering individual advice to students.

Stone offering individual advice to students.

When the breakout sessions ended at 4:00pm, there was a brief break followed by a social hour from 4:30 until 5:30pm.  During this time, attendees were able to visit the room where all of the pieces of art in the International Portrait Competition were on display and meet the artists behind those works, or they could unwind with a drink in the large hallway outside the grand ballroom while they awaited the next event of the evening.

At 5:30pm promptly, the doors to the grand ballroom opened onto the 6×9 Limited Size, Unlimited Talent Mystery Art Sale, a favorite event to which many attendees and faculty too look forward to each year.  In the sale roughly 120 artworks of approximately 6×9 inches in size (some sculpture may have been slightly larger) were offered for sale by lottery at a fixed price of only $250.  The catch is that no one knows whose artwork they have purchased until it is removed from the wall, and the signature on the back of the work is revealed.  In the past, the clamoring over a favorite piece has sometimes gotten a bit out of hand, but as everyone has become more practiced at conducting and participating in the event over the years, it seems to just go smoother and smoother.  The mystery artists behind these works include faculty members, past medal winners, and other award recipients, and proceeds from the sales go for scholarships to allow some students who could not otherwise afford it to attend future conferences.

After the 6×9 Mystery Art Sale ended, attendees went off to find their dinners, either in the hotel’s own restaurant, or in one of the many restaurants in the nearby area.  The day was not over yet, however, and after dinner, attendees were invited to return to see a Master Drawing session which ran from 8:00pm until 10:00pm.  Juliette Aristides, Casey Childs, Susan Lyon, and Ricky Mujica each set themselves up with a model in separate conferences rooms and invited guests to stop in to watch them at work, and to ask questions about their procedures.  This event has only recently returned to the conference itinerary, and proves just how jam-packed the daily schedule at the conference is, with planned events running for thirteen hours straight on the first full day of the convention alone.

Jeff Hein

Jeff Hein

Jeff Hein

Ricky Mujica

Ricky Mujica

Susan Lyon

Susan Lyon

Susan Lyon

Casey Childs

Casey Childs

Casey Childs

Juliette Aristides

Juliette Aristides

Juliette Aristides

Juliette Aristides

When the “Master Drawing” session ended at 10:00pm, it was time for this photographer to turn in, but for many others, there was still time to hang out with friends in the hotel lobby for a few hours.



    Thank you for this thorough review of Day #1! I was unable to make it to Atlanta this year, so the update was so appreciated. Next year in Reston!

    Elizabeth Salim

    Thank you so much for this!! I love it. These memories are treasures.


    Thanks for this post!! I registered for the 2018 conference (my first!) & have wondered about the process…looking forward to a great experience!

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